Was there anything more uncomfortable than sitting in a classroom when you were 13?My heart goes out to some of my adult students… learning either English or Spanish.
I can see, no…I can feel, how uncomfortable they are, squeezing into those tiny chair/desk affairs that have been popular in schools in Spain for the last twenty years.
Teaching in private language academies in Spain, I have had to watch all stratas of society deal with the ‘classroom furniture ‘ provided by the Director of the School, who had never had to actually sit in this furniture herself for a whole hour, EVER!I have seen grown men with beer guts trying to manouevre themselves self-consciously into these contraptions. I had to look away.
I have seen pregnant women discreetly attempting not to harm their unborn baby, all in the name of linguistic excellence which comes via an uncomfortable, painful language lesson.
Worst of all I have to watch them extricate themselves from these traps at the end of the lesson.
It’s not pleasant.
The fact is that if your uncomfortable with a sore posterior on a hard chair, or worrying about how you are going to elegantly escape the hold of a hybrid desk/chair (chair/desk), you’re not going to be paying much attention to your language coach, training your ear in the intricacies of Spanish accents or inviting you to grasp the concept of the Pluperfect subjunctive.
We all have different attention spans, I’ve found..
Then there are the dreaded flashbacks
There are some things you just can’t forget and flashbacks to these moments can be very scary.
Some of my adult students have mentioned that, for them, sitting in a classroom after 10, 20 or even 30 years triggers memories of when they were 13 years old in Mr.Coleman’s Latin lessons.
Did I say Mr. Coleman? Oh yes; That was ME.
Mr. Coleman was, (how would you say?), a typical “old-school” -pardon the pun- Maths teacher (apologies to all lovely, sensitive, understanding teachers of mathematics).
When I was thirteen in Mr. Coleman’s maths lesson, I spent the whole time with my head down, pretending I was jotting down what he was saying.
I wasn’t the only one.
All my classmates knew that if he caught your eye, even just slightly, there would be a 99.99% chance that he would, …drum roll…, ask you a question. GASP!
So if your mind flashes back to that type of scenario when now, as a mature adult you find yourself in a kind of parrallel universe, sitting in a tiny cramped desk in a language class, trying to maintain some of your lost dignity, you have my deepest sympathies.
The strange thing is you can revert back to when you were a shy thirteen-year- old and try and avoid eye-contact with your delightful language teacher.
She might just catch your eye and ask you to speak! GASP!
It’s a curious phenomenon. You have probably signed up in order to speak, understand, read and write your new language.
You may have even paid quite a bit of money in order to do just that in that very classroom, but at times there’s almost something like a time warp that settles over a language classroom and whisks you back to that scary feeling when you were thirteen and Mr. Coleman caught … Did I just say Mr. Coleman again?
And then there’s the chalkboard. Although this fortunately is becoming a thing of the distant past, and is being replaced by the white marker board.The chalk board was horrible. Squeaky, scratchy, dirty, chalky.
The only advantage was that often Mr. Coleman would spend five or ten minutes searching for chalk as there was never enough for him.
Oh, I was so envious of the classmate he chose to leave the class and go to find more chalk.
He only ever asked his ‘favourites’ to do that (and that was never me), but at least it gave us all a few minutes respite, him included.
He would go back to his desk and sit, ceremoniously waiting for the chalk to appear, eyeing up his next victim; I mean deciding who to challenge next with an interesting mathematical enigma.
We all sat in silent terror with our heads down. (Remember the eye-contact issue?)
What’s this got to do with language learning?
It’s so hard to throw off shyness and embarrassment when attempting to speak another language in front of others. Just like it was so embarrassing to speak in front of the class when you were thirteen.
I get it because I’ve been through it.
But even if your only option at the moment for your language learning is to attend a ‘traditional classroom’, in front of other language learners who you think are better than you, embrace it with all your might!
How to get over shyness and embarrassment in a language classroom
- Be prepared
Do the tasks, if any, that have been asked of you by the teacher so you have a head start for the language session.
- Practise as much as you can OUT LOUD
Practise speaking out loud as much as you can. Take the homework or the text you know you will be working on in the next language session and PRACTISE some of the items OUT LOUD to yourself.
This is so helpful for your language development, because your brain gets used to hearing yourself saying those strange sounds (i.e. new language) and your embarrassment will be automatically reduced.
See previous post about the benefits at Repeat, repeat, repeat…
- Remember why you are there anyway
This is about motivation. Keeping in mind why you are learning, what you want to achieve and believing that you will reach your goals no matter what are all great motivational mantras to internalise.
- Make realistic goals. Remember you do not need native fluency EVER!
Now go for it, try out your new language, have fun with it and forget the worry about how it might not sound exactly right!
It’s NEVER going to sound exactly right, if what you are aiming for is native fluency.
Instead aim for second language conversational fluency; enough to get by on, enough to make yourself understood and understand, up to a certain level in your new language.
Would that not be wonderful? YES
Would that not be attainable? YES
I hope that helps.
Do YOU feel or have you felt shy and embarrassed in language classroom situation?
Let me know if this resonates with you and if a classroom environment is uncomfortable for you in your language learning.